Utah Chief Sues Police Over Flawed Drug Investigation

A Salt Lake County assistant chief has filed suit in federal court against the City of Cottonwood Heights claiming that a police detective violated his rights when he accessed confidential medical information about him from the State of Utah’s Controlled Substance Database, and used the information to file unwarranted criminal charges.

Assistant Chief Marlon Don Jones of the Unified Fire Department in Salt Lake County filed suit last week naming Police Detective James Woods, Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore, and the City of Cottonwood Heights alleging violations of his state and federal constitutional rights, as well as violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

According to the complaint, in April, 2013, Detective Woods was assigned to investigate the possible theft of medications from the Unified Fire Department, including Versed, Morphine and Fentanyl.

Mayor Cullimore, who served as a board member for the Unified Fire Department, provided Detective Woods with a list of all fire department employees, which Woods used “to investigate each and every one of the 480 employees confidential and protected medical histories” through the confidential prescription database maintained by the State of Utah called the Controlled Substance Database.

  • Based upon his investigation and determination that [Chief Jones] was “Opioid dependent” Detective Woods included Plaintiff in a list of four “suspects” for a completely different crime than he was investigating when he received the list of names.
  • On April 26, 2013 Detective Woods used the information that he obtained from the investigation of the prescription drug database and contacted Plaintiff’s doctors and pharmacists multiple times to discuss his private medical conditions and their treatment of Chief Jones as a patient.
  • During these conversations, Detective Woods did not limit his conversation regarding Jones’s medical conditions to his doctors. Rather, the detective would discuss this private information with whomever he could get to talk about it. Including but not limited to nurses, receptionists, assistants, and anyone else he believed he could obtain private information from.
  • Detective Woods learned about the treatment provided and formed the opinion based upon his investigation and medical expertise, that Plaintiff did not require the treatment determined necessary by his three separate doctors.
  • Detective Woods discussed all of Chief Jones medical conditions with his health care providers or whomever would discuss it with him.
  • During the interrogation of the health care providers at least one of them reported that they felt “intimidated” and “pushed” by Detective Woods to provide more information than was appropriate.
  • None of Jones’s doctors believed or thought that he was abusing prescription medications or taking too many medications and each of them reported as much to Detective Woods.
  • On May 10, 2013 the Salt Lake County District Attorney filed fourteen felony charges against Assistant Chief Marlon Jones for violation of Utah Code § 58-37-8(3)(A)(III).
  • Jones employment status was changed and he was placed on administrative leave pursuant to the direction of the Unified Fire Board.
  • In July of 2013, while sitting in his home, Assistant Chief Marlon Jones was arrested in connection with the Warrant issued on May 10, 2013.
  • Following his arrest Assistant Chief Jones was placed in handcuffs in front of his family and friends who were at his home.
  • After being placed in handcuffs, Jones was taken via a marked police vehicle to the Salt Lake County Jail wherein he was booked and fingerprinted in connection with the arrest.
  • On May 13, 2014 Jones was in front of Judge Faust for a preliminary hearing.
  • At the preliminary hearing Mr. Rampton attempted to avoid the testimony of the three medical doctors and enter the 1102 statements instead.
  • Through the testimony of each of the doctors it was established that none of them believed Assistant Chief Jones had a prescription drug problem at any time.
  • Each of the doctors testified that Jones exhibited no “red flags” of substance abuse dependency or abuse.
  • On October 1, 2014 the case against Chief Marlon Jones was dismissed with prejudice and all fourteen felony counts were abandoned.
  • The Defendants acted negligently or willfully when they obtained Chief Jones’ medical information without meeting the requirements of 15 U.S.C. § 1681b.

In the aftermath of Chief Jones’ well chronicled ordeal, the state legislature amended the laws governing police access to the Controlled Substances Database, and now require a search warrant to be issued.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Jones v Woods

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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